On Tuesday, December 2, after most of us have finally stirred back to life after gorging on a traditional Thanksgiving feast, not to mention gorging on the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, those who are inclined to commemorate the true spirit of the season will be making contributions to their favorite charities as part of "Giving Tuesday." Started in 2012 by the 92nd St. Y in New York City and the United Nations Foundation, the day is designed as a response to the commercialization and consumerism in the post-Thanksgiving season.
Many companies and non-profit organizations across the country, including my own, Yeshiva University, have embraced this event, and we are strongly encouraging our students, alumni and donors to participate. Our reasons for supporting Giving Tuesday are many, and speak to the changing nature of Orthodox Jewry and our community as a whole.
Obviously, the Jewish "mitzvah" of "tzedakah," literally "justice" though more commonly associated with charity, commands us to help others. Giving Tuesday, as a response to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, asks us to reflect and see how we can help others during a time when we generally spend weeks focusing on ourselves. Indeed, Giving Tuesday, and what it signifies, strongly aligns with our Jewish values.
Judaism directs us to always look beyond our own selves to "K'lal Yisrael," to the greater good of the entire community. That is why we work toward the ideal of "tzedakah," as well as "Tikkun Olam," repairing the world, and other acts of humanitarianism each and every day.
But Giving Tuesday is about more than just "tzedekah." As an American Jew, I grew up in a household where, to this day, the two most important "Jewish" holidays were always Passover and Thanksgiving. The bounty and security provided my immigrant grandparents who came to the US in the 1920s resonate deeply, and especially on those days when family travelled from near and far to gather at my parents' house.
Moreover, I realize that, as a New Yorker, one of the key factors in what makes the City so special during this season is the impact that Jewish merchants have had in creating the quintessential holiday experience. I'm sure I am not alone in getting a special feeling knowing that the efforts of our "lansmen" from earlier generations laid the foundation for such New York spectacles as the Macy's Parade and the Bloomingdale's windows.
Of course, I am also not alone in being exposed to the commercialism and self-interest of the holiday shopping season. We are bombarded with non-stop advertisements, no matter where we are or where we go. I've been guilty of going to the mall on Black Friday and looking at the deals on Cyber Monday. It's only natural; I am an American, after all. But shouldn't I -- in fact, all of us Americans, blessed to live in the greatest nation on the earth -- also embrace the notion of "tzedakah" -- giving back?
All of this makes, in my mind, the holiday season a uniquely Jewish time that demands some reflection about a country that has given us so much.
At YU, Thanksgiving and Christmas are not holidays that are central to the young men and women who study in our religiously-based undergraduate institutions. Yes, Thanksgiving is a day off. But besides that, business pretty much goes on as usual during these weeks. Our campus is open on Christmas. That said, it is events like Giving Tuesday that offer us the opportunity look outward and embrace the society of which we are a part.
So, as I visit with my family during this season and I think about the sales to come, and as I walk down Fifth Avenue looking at windows and viewing the Macy's Parade, I will also be encouraging the YU community -- and the Jewish community as a whole -- to use this time to also reflect on our responsibility as caring, involved Jews.
This post is part of a series produced in celebration of #GivingTuesday, which will take place this year (2014) on December 2. The idea behind #GivingTuesday is to kickoff the holiday-giving season, in the same way that Black Friday and Cyber Monday kickoff the holiday-shopping season. The Huffington Post will feature posts on #GivingTuesday all month in November. To see all the posts in the series, visit here; follow the conversation via #GivingTuesday and learn more here.
And if you'd like to share your own #GivingTuesday story, please send us your 500-850-word post to impactblogs@huffingtonpost.